Monthly Archives: March 2016

Yankees Notes: The Unusual Situation for Rob Refsnyder

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

It has been a disappointing Spring Training for young Yankees infielder, Rob Refsnyder, to say the least.

                               Image via riveraveblues.com

The former 5th round pick was a favorite to make the big league roster as a backup infielder this spring. After being brought up at the end of last season and having an immediate impact (hitting .302 with two home runs) it is easy to see why some people would think this way. He would have been even more of a lock to make it if the team would not have made one particular offseason move.

Going into this offseason, fans and media were interested to see what player would emerge as New York’s every day second baseman this year with the forthcoming departure of Stephen Drew (who had an abysmal year). Would they just hand the job over to Refsnyder, sign a big name free agent, or perhaps make a trade? The team decided to go with option C.

In December, the Yankees and Cubs agreed to a trade in which New York would receive recently converted second baseman, Starlin Castro in return for swingman pitcher, Adam Warren and utility infielder, Brendan Ryan. Many saw this trade as a win-win for both teams. A win for the Yankees because Castro has five years of experience at the Major League level while only being 26 years old, he is a three-time All-Star, and addresses the need of a productive second baseman immediately. Also a win for Chicago because with the signing of star free agent 2B Ben Zobrist (who previously played for Cubs manager Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay) and the rising of 2B prospect Javier Baez, Castro’s talents were no longer needed and the club received a proven pitcher who could help strengthen either the bullpen or the rotation in Adam Warren and a backup infielder with Brendan Ryan to help take some of the pressure off the starters.

While fans and media rejoiced about the arrival of Castro and claimed the change of scenery was exactly what he needed to get back to his All-Star form. One person was not celebrating, and that person was Rob Refsnyder. It was also later revealed that the Yankees had previously tried to trade for Castro before they even gave Ref a chance. In an article on Pinstripeally.com, a popular Yankees blog, Caitlin Rogers writes, “the Yankees failed to trade for Castro, then decided that the best option was to continue to play Drew instead of Refsnyder, and Drew was terrible.” This further proves some fans theories that the New York Yankees are doing all that they can to not have Refsnyder on their roster, but why would they feel that way?

Fast-forward to the beginning of Spring Training for the New York Yankees. There were many storylines going into camp including who would step up and replace Adam Warren and Justin Wilson in the bullpen? who will the backup catcher be? And who the fifth starter would be? It seemed like most had already forgot about Refsnyder and were focused on Castro being the team’s second baseman for years to come. Even with the arrival of Starlin Castro and the spotlight being on him now, this did not stop Ref from working, improving, and striving to earn a roster spot on the New York Yankees. An article on nj.com quoted Refsnyder discussing the current predicament, “It didn’t change much about how I go about my business. I was raised to work hard and make the most of the situation.”

The former Arizona Wildcat certainly did all he could to try and make the Big League roster and that included trying out a new position. Now that the club had Castro at second with veteran utility player Dustin Ackley serving as his backup, speculation around Yankees camp was that they were going experiment with Ref at third base. Rob began the spring at his traditional position of second but after a week the coaches had moved him across the diamond to third base. The goal for Refsnyder now was to learn quickly and make the roster as a backup to 3B Chase Headley (who took his lumps at third this past season after appearing in the most games since his 2012 season). At the beginning it seemed like Rob was a natural at third and the experiment was successful. Just a short week ago he carried a .250 average including a home run and had only committed one error at the hot corner where he had played 90% of the time this spring. But the last week of Spring Training where success was pivotal in order for him to earn a spot, was not kind to him.

The struggles came this past Friday and Saturday where fans and media saw two plays where the ball took a bad hop and struck Refsnyder in the face, causing him to leave early in both games. Also in the two games combined, Ref committed three errors. He ended Spring Training with a slightly disappointing .242 average and a demotion to AAA followed shortly after. For one player (who was originally an outfielder converted to second base) to learn third base in a month span is an almost impossible task. Although Rob may not have made the Big League roster, this spring has certainly been an encouraging one to Yankees coaches and management in terms of Ref showing them he was willing to do anything to be a part of this team.

The question now becomes what the Bronx Bombers plan to do with this prospect in the future. There are multiple situations that the team could be mulling over in regards to Rob, including sending him back to AAA to further gain experience at third base so he could help take some of the workload off of Headley later in the year or continuing to give him reps at multiple positions (3rd, 2nd, and OF) in order to boost his trade stock. It is unknown if Yankee management includes Rob Refsnyder in their group of prospects who are “untouchable” in trade talks along with OF Aaron Judge, SS Jorge Mateo, C Gary Sanchez, and P James Kaprielian. In an article from the NY Post titled Rob Refsnyder’s weekend from hell ends with sad demotion, Manager Joe Girardi is quoted as saying, “Our feeling is that we want him to play more at third. For him to be valuable to us, if he can do them both [second and third], he would be valuable to us.” So the plan for now is in place.

Personally I think Ref is going to be a great player and I’m rooting for him to excel at third or any other position the organization wants him to try. His work ethic is going to be key to his success and progression as a player and it was on display this spring with the 25 year-old showing up weeks early at the Minor-League complex in Tampa to train. He is not concerned about being buried in the depth of the organization, he is only worried about continuing to improve and will be waiting for his opportunity.

It remains to be seen who the Yankees will keep as the backup infielder to Headley at third, now the players that are in the running for the job and are still at camp include Pete Kozma and Ronald Torreyes who both have at least some Major League experience. The team could also turn to a player who has been cut recently from another team or even make another trade and bury Refsnyder even more. Whatever option the team goes with it will be a short-term fix and Ref will still be seen as the long-term answer as long as he continues to improve. Who knows, Castro or Headley could struggle down the stretch this year and the Yankees may look to Rob Refsnyder as the replacement (wishful thinking).

 

Media Hits and Misses At Indian Wells

By Dr. Jacquelyn Cuneen

This is part of an ongoing series of guest posts by those in academia and in the professional world of sport. This week’s post is written by Dr. Jacquelyn Cuneen, Ph.D, a former Sport Management Professor at Bowling Green State University.

Usually, tennis news is just like other sports news — who won the games, how they won the games, who rivals who, who dominates, and when do they play again. Except, quite often, an age-old dispute emerges from tennis that causes us to revisit a new version of an old controversy. Sexism!

The BNP Paribas Open — Indian Wells — is a premier stop on both the women’s and men’s tennis tours. The tournament is greatly respected by players, fans, and media, and it is so prestigious that Indian Wells may one day be granted Grand Slam status. Thus, all the top players compete, global media cover the matches from start to finish, and fans set attendance records each year. In other words, the tournament itself is news. However, from the very start to the very finish of 2016’s event, the global media had much more to cover than matches when sexism, tennis’ recurring nemesis, once again intruded. And while the media devoted more than ample coverage to the major stories, they missed some critical undercurrents.

Opening day brought the Maria Sharapova doping scandal. The world number 11 had for ten years been using mildronate, a drug prescribed primarily for angina and other cardiac-related ills. Since January, the drug has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency because among its effects is an increase in blood flow which can enhance athletic performance. Sharapova apparently missed the agency directive sent to all players in December 2015 that announced this newly banned drug; she tested positive for mildronate and was disqualified from playing at Indian Wells. The media, particularly Tennis Channel and ESPN, doggedly analyzed Sharapova’s performances and discussed advantages she may have gained from using mildronate. Commentators also, but with less ceremony, listed those Sharapova sponsors that deserted her very quickly upon the breaking news.

With such comprehensive coverage of Sharapova’s predicament, what possible undercurrent could the media have missed and how did it relate to Sharapova’s drug use and sponsorships? In a word: Nike!

Nike was one of the first of many sponsors (e.g., Tag Heuer, Evian, Avon, Porsche) to run for cover when news of Sharapova’s failed drug test was made public. So, what undercurrent did the media miss related to Nike and why do Nike’s repudiations relate to sexism? In a word, Tiger.

Think back to the 2009 holiday season when news broke about Woods’ numerous extramarital affairs. His sponsors did not abandon him immediately, but within a matter of weeks, Woods, like Sharapova, lost many sponsors (e.g., Tag Heuer, Gatorade, Gillette, Buick) but not Nike. Nike continued their association with Woods, lasting to this day.

Where were the media to ask questions related to Nike’s sponsorship decisions? Why did they not note the undercurrent and ask Nike about the rationale that fueled their loyalty to Woods, but did not extend it to Sharapova? Is it even thinkable that taking a performance-enhancing drug “inadvertently” (as claimed by Sharapova) is worse than serial infidelity, when many golf and tennis fans would find both to be repugnant? Only Nike knows their reasons for deserting Sharapova; no one else knows because the media did not inquire about it. Fans in a discerning world might like to know how a company with a 2017 target of realizing $7 billion in women’s spending — which will constitute 20% of their total annual revenues — can make such a questionable and possibly gender-biased decision.

Closing day brought the Ray Moore scandal. Moore was a professional player of little note and no consequence between 1968 and 1983, but gained notability as one of the founders and eventual chief executive officer of the Indian Wells tournament. At a breakfast meeting prior to the women’s final match, Moore expressed his beliefs that, among other things, women’s players ride the coattails of the men, and if he was a woman player, he would go down on his knees nightly and be thankful that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried the game. Media, even non-sports media, covered Moore’s comments in depth. Stories in traditional and posts within modern social media universes expressed outrage and disgust over Moore’s archaic ideals. So, what undercurrents did the media miss in the Moore disgrace? In a word, men!

Not only were Moore’s insults obviously degrading and dismissive to those women players who rank among the best athletes in history, his opinion about Federer and Nadal carrying the game is an insult to the other men on the tour. Federer, and particularly Nadal of late, are not carrying the game and they never actually did. While they may have been among the most visible of recent players, plenty of others have dominated tournaments as well. Why did the media not seek opinions from champions such as Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka who have dominated Federer and Nadal for the past few years. Moore’s comments were not just offensive to the women players. His version of sexism offended every player regardless of gender, except Federer and Nadal.

Moore learned the consequences of antiquated ignorance expressed in a modern world within three days of the tournaments’ conclusion. He resigned as Indian Wells’ CEO, and as the controversy is ongoing, it is the media’s obligation to discover the reasons for his retreat. Could Moore not face the personal significance of his comments or was his resignation forced by inside and outside sources? It would be nice to know that story.

A final thought for consideration: Ray Moore played on the men’s professional tennis tour for 15 years.  In that time, he managed to win eight doubles titles, none of them a major, playing with 16 different partners. This was during the tennis boom of King, Evert, Laver, and Connors. It was the era when dedicated tennis beat reporters emerged and media coverage of the game flourished. Yet, few besides the most faithful of tennis aficionados heard of Ray Moore then or now … speaking of riding coattails.

The Price of Success

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

NFL free agency opened on March 9th at 4 p.m. and there were a number of teams ready to give out money to the top players on the market. The three teams with most cap space at the start of free agency were the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Oakland Raiders, and the New York Giants. This post is looking at the New York Giants and their record-setting free agent spending spree and whether it was worth it.

On the first day of free agency the Giants signed three top defensive players. This past season New York was absolutely awful on the defensive side of the ball and with $56 million to spend in free agency, fans were hoping and expecting their team to address this issue. They certainly did that by signing Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison and Oliver Vernon. The Giants started  by signing former Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins to a five-year deal worth $62.5M with $28.8M guaranteed. The team opted to let their current starting corner, Prince Amukamara walk away. This decision was made simply because they believed Jenkins was a better option moving forward, but is it worth making him the second highest paid corner in the league? It remains to be seen if this investment will pay off in the long run but they certainly seem committed to Jenkins for the future.

The New York Giants second signing of the day was for former Jets DT Damon “Snacks” Harrison. The deal was worth $46.25M with $24M guaranteed, in my opinion this was a great signing for the team because what organization in their right mind wouldn’t want a 350 pound brick wall in the middle of the D-line?

The biggest signing of the day for New York and the rest of the league came when the Giants locked up former Dolphins DE Olivier Vernon. This lucrative deal was for five years and worth $85M with $52.5M guaranteed. Many saw this deal and quickly stated that the team overspent for this player. With the salary cap at a record amount, overspending is necessary when trying to fix a team quickly. An article from The Washington Post titled The Giants’ wild free-agent spending spree. History suggests it won’t pay off discusses why the Giants were giving out these insane contracts. The article has a quote from former Browns General Manager Phil Savage, he says, “They were very porous on defense. There was not a single difference-maker who could close out a game with a sack or an interception or a pass breakup. When you get the green light, this is what you see done.” This quote supports New York’s strategy and shows that a knowledgeable NFL mind agrees with what they are doing.

Jerry Reese, General Manager of the New York Giants was on the hot seat this past offseason with fans calling for his head. He was ultimately kept on board, Giants management showed they trusted him moving on. Reese certainly operated free agency like a man set on keeping his job. With the salary cap ballooning to $155.27 million and having $56 million to spend, the time was certainly right to splurge. In an article titled Giants free agency 2016: What others are saying about massive spending spree, writer Ed Valentine talks about Reese and the way he operated free agency this offseason. In the article, Valentine writes, “Reese rushed at free agency the way Lawrence Taylor rushed the quarterback, and recorded the most important sack of his career at a time when he was put on notice by his bosses.” A comparison between Jerry Reese and Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor is certainly and odd one but in this case it works perfectly.

Another notable signing came when the team re-signed DE Jason Pierre-Paul. The deal was for one year and worth $10.5M with $8.5M guaranteed.

The Giants may have overspent a bit in this free agency period but desperate times call for desperate measures, and when the past four years have been filled with nothing but dread it was certainly warranted. Only time can tell if these deals will be worth it but the Giants certainly improved their roster, defense in particular. The 2016 NFL Draft is still on the horizon and with the 10th overall pick, New York can further improve their team. Giants fans can only hope that with these signings their team will succeed in years to come and not end up like teams in the past who also gave out loads of money like the Eagles in 2011 when they assembled the self-proclaimed “dream team.”

 

Robert Kraft Asks Goodell for Patriots’ Draft Pick

Even though Tom Brady won the “Deflategate” debate, the Patriots still lost. Last fall, the NFL stripped the Patriots of a first round and a fourth round pick in the 2016 NFL draft. As first reported by ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots has asked Roger Goodell for the reinstatement of the Patriots’ first round draft pick. Goodell, in response to “Deflategate,” fined the Patriots and confiscated the Patriots’ picks. Goodell had said that he would reconsider if new evidence was brought forth. Robert Kraft was quoted saying:

“I personally wrote a letter to the commissioner responding to his comment that if any new facts came up, he would take them into consideration. I personally believe that when the league made their decision they did not factor in the Ideal Gas Law. They admitted that publicly. They had a full year of being able to observe Tom Brady play with all the rules of whatever the NFL was, and make any judgments there. We have laid it out pretty straightforward and now it’s up to them to decide.”

At this point, the Patriots first pick in the upcoming NFL draft is 60th overall. It is very difficult for teams to maintain success in the NFL without strong evaluation and execution in the NFL draft. Last fall, Robert Kraft called Goodell’s decision “the harshest penalty in the history of the NFL.” Many think though Goodell has some sort of agenda as he has been very unusually firm with the Patriots throughout the process.

It seems unlikely for change to occur from the commissioner, who Richard Sherman recently called “just a suit” when talking about the new rule changes Goodell wants to implement in the NFL. but Sherman even continued to say “it sounds like something somebody who’s never played the game would say.” Similarly, there is a motion with the NFL and the NFLPA to lesson Goodell’s power to discipline player’s off the field incidents. It is possible that this recent public pressure at the expense of Roger Goodell could force his hand to loosen the penalty on the Patriots in hopes to recover what is a poor public image. It is difficult to predict the final outcome as Goodell has been inconsistent with the way he has handled issues, but Robert Kraft and the Patriots organization hopes things will fall their way.

More Controversy at Indian Wells

By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer

Venus and Serena Williams’ return to Indian Wells was supposed to close the book on a controversy that occurred in 2001. They faced a racist incident that was a painful memory for them and a blemish on the tournament. In 2016, Serena hoped to write a new chapter by advancing to the Women’s Singles final where she faced Victoria Azarenka. Their matches had always been close and promised to provide a storybook ending to this new chapter. While the final score did not end in Serena’s favor (Vika won 6-4, 6-4), a new controversy emerged as a result of sexist comments made by Ray Moore, the tournament’s director and CEO. Before the Men’s Singles final, Moore was asked how the men’s (ATP) and women’s tours (WTA) compared. He replied by calling  “the WTA a bunch of lucky coattail-ridin’ dummies who have the men to thank for their continued existence” (Redford, 2016, para. 1). But he didn’t stop there, adding, “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport. They really have” (Redford, para. 2).

In the press conference following her match, Serena was asked to comment on Moore’s statements. She began by saying, “I think Venus, myself, a number of players have been — if I could tell you every day how many people say they don’t watch tennis unless they’re watching myself or my sister, I couldn’t even bring up that number. So I don’t think that is a very accurate statement” (Dator, 2016, para. 4).

Asked further if she was surprised that sexist statements are still brought up, Serena replied: “Yeah, I’m still surprised, especially with me and Venus and all the other women on the tour that’s done well. Last year the women’s final at the US Open sold out well before the men. I’m sorry, did Roger play in that final or Rafa or any man play in that final that was sold out before the men’s final? I think not ” (Dator, 2016, para. 5).

Serena also referred to the history of progress that began with Billie Jean King whose “Battle of the Sexes” victory over Bobby Riggs has been credited with advancing the cause of all women in sport. In fact, Billie Jean also played an integral role in securing equal prize money for women at the U.S. Open in 1973 (D’Cunha, 2016). As Serena pointed out, “in order to make a comment you have to have history and you have to have facts and you have to know things. You have to know of everything. I mean, you look at someone like Billie Jean King who opened so many doors for not only women’s players but women athletes in general” (Dator, 2016, para. 6).

King herself played during the same era as Ray Moore when professional tennis was in its infancy. During that era, the ratio between men’s and women’s earnings was often as disparate as 11:1 (BJ King, personal communication, February 24, 1999). Billie Jean responded to Moore’s comments on Twitter saying she was: “Disappointed in comments. He is wrong on so many levels. Every player, especially the top players, contribute to our success.”

Chris Kermode, CEO of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), the governing body of men’s professional tennis agreed with King in describing “Ray Moore’s comments towards women’s tennis” as “disappointing” (Rycroft, 2016, para. 5). Adding that the comments were “made in poor taste,” Kermode stated that, “The ATP fully supports equality across society, while at the same time acknowledging that we operate in the sports [and] entertainment business” (Rycroft, 2016, para. 5).

Unfortunately, Kermode’s comments are unlikely to carry as much weight as earlier statements made by the Men’s Singles winner and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who said after winning his match yesterday: “I think that our men’s tennis world, ATP world, should fight for more, because the stats are showing that we have much more spectators on the men’s tennis matches. I think that’s one of the reasons why maybe we should get awarded more” (D’Cunha, 2016, para. 15). There is an underlying problem with comments by both Moore and Djokovic, as D’Cunha (2016) pointed out, in that they “are indicative of the general disregard for women’s tennis by their male counterparts” (para. 18).

If there is any consolation it is the outpouring of support for women’s tennis that was expressed on Twitter and in other articles. Hopefully, women’s tennis (and all women’s sports) will continue the legacy begun by Billie Jean King, Gladys Heldman, the “Original Nine” and current WTA players. They’re not riding anybody’s coat tails!!

Note: According to reports on Twitter as of March 21, Raymond Moore has resigned as Tournament Director and CEO at Indian Wells. Perhaps, on this 10th anniversary of Twitter, it is fitting that the social media site played a key role in disseminating news of this controversy so quickly.

References

Dator, J. (2016, March 20). Serena Williams sends powerful message to Indian Wells CEO over sexist comments. SB Nation. Retrieved from http://www.sbnation.com/2016/3/20/11273222/serena-williams-press-conference-sexist-comments-indian-wells-ceo

D’Cunha, Z. (2016, March 21). Raymond Moore, Novak Djokovic, and the blatant disregard for women’s tennis by the men in sport. Firstpost.com. Retrieved from http://www.firstpost.com/sports/raymond-moore-novak-djokovics-comments-not-only-sexist-but-also-show-disregard-for-womens-tennis-2688386.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

Redford, P. (2016, March 20). Indian Wells CEO Raymond Moore has some bad and dumb thoughts on Women’s Tennis. Deadspin. Retrieved from http://deadspin.com/indian-wells-ceo-raymond-moore-has-some-bad-and-dumb-th-1766048378

Rycroft, R. (2016, March 21). ATP’s Chris Kermode responds to Raymond Moore’s controversial comments on WTA. Sportsgecko.com. Retrieved from http://sportsgecko.com/atps-chris-kermode-responds-to-raymond-moores-controversial-comments-on-wta/

 

Hopefully Luck is on Your Side This March

by Brendan Ripley-Barasch

It’s that time of year again. Millions of people nationwide are trying to piece together what they hope is the perfect bracket. No one has ever been able to predict every single game correctly, not the president, not any celebrity, and not even a professional college basketball analyst, it’s called March Madness for a reason.

Image via southfloridareporter.com

It is near impossible to guess what upsets there will be and when they will occur, in the past there have been many “Cinderella Stories” and “Bracket Busters” in the tournament. Arguably the most notable Cinderella story came in 1983 when the North Carolina State Wolfpack led by coaching legend Jimmy Valvano entered the tournament as a 6 seed. They tore through the tournament, upsetting multiple teams, staging historic comebacks, and eventually advancing to the national championship where they were pitted against college basketball juggernaut Houston, led by such elite players as Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. The end of that game is one of the most famous endings in sport history. Viewer’s saw NC State’s Dereck Whittenburg throw up a prayer that air balled only to be caught by Lorenzo Charles and slammed home just before the buzzer sounded which gave NC State the win and the title. There is no telling who that Cinderella team will be this year, we will just have to wait and see.

This year’s tournament is especially interesting for one reason in particular. Throughout most of the regular season there was no clear number one team, it felt like every week the #1 team was being upset and multiple top ten teams continued to get knocked off as well. The parity of college basketball this year is unreal, it is hard to think of another season where it seemed that every team was so evenly matched against one another. In an article on ESPN.com titled The Floor Is Yours: Is this parity or bad basketball? Author Myron Medcalf gives an interesting statistic, “Through Jan. 22, The Associated Press poll’s top five teams had suffered 19 losses, a record for that stretch.” This fact is mind-boggling, just a short year ago it was clear to everyone who the best two teams were, with Kentucky finishing the regular season 31-0 and Duke going 35-4 and eventually winning the National Championship. Later in the same article, Texas Head Coach Shaka Smart is quoted saying, “There’s less of a difference between the top 25 and next 25 in a given week.” A question everyone has probably asked themselves at some point this year is if this is good or bad for college basketball?

The fact that every team seems so evenly matched just makes it that much harder to try to make that perfect bracket. One way to try to gain the upper-hand when putting together your bracket would be to seek advice online. There are thousands of websites out there that offer a multitude of different strategies, so you have to choose wisely. One of these articles giving advice is by Jon Solomon of cbssports.com and is titled 2016 March Madness bracket: 8 fast facts to help you win your tournament. Solomon provides his  opinion which is put together with facts, statistics, and recent occurrences. Solomon’s number one fact is “National champs play offense and defense.” He backs this claim by saying, “Twelve of the past 13 National Champions finished in the top 20 of Ken Pomeroy’s offensive and defensive efficiency ratings.” Who knows if he is right or even if he will be of any help to you while you make your bracket, but you won’t know unless you try it.

It is highly unlikely anyone fills out a perfect bracket this year and even making a respectable one will be difficult. This year in college basketball has been a roller coaster and that in itself poses a problem. All we can do is hope luck is on our side this March, and even if your bracket doesn’t do that hot, you still get to sit back and watch some great basketball.

 

A Sad Chapter Ends… or Does It?

By Dr. Nancy E. Spencer

On Friday, March 11, 2016, Venus Williams made her return to Indian Wells, facing Japan’s Kurumi Mara in a first-round singles match. It had been 15 years since Venus last played in the tournament, and she received a warm welcome as reflected by her broad smile in the photo below.?

In March 2001, when Venus last appeared at Indian Wells, she was scheduled to meet her sister Serena in the semifinals. As it was reported by most media sources, Venus defaulted just moments before she was to have played Serena. Tennis writer Joel Drucker (2009), wrote that “four minutes before her match against Serena, Venus pull(ed) out with tendinitis. Players usually notify officials that they will be unable to compete at least 30 minutes before a match so organizers can make contingency plans” (para. 13).

Serena related a different version of this story in her autobiography, where she wrote that during Venus’ quarter-final match against Elena Dementieva, she was dehydrated and started to cramp; she also hurt her knee and questioned whether she would be able to play in the semifinals against Serena (Williams & Paisner, 2009). On the morning of their scheduled semifinal, “Venus checked in with the tour trainer and told him she didn’t think she could play” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 64). According to the rules, the trainer needed to give his approval before Venus could officially withdraw. The trainer was then supposed to consult with the tournament director who would typically schedule another match in its place. [This part is confirmed by Drucker’s statement above].

Checking in with tour officials was an especially important step since Venus and Serena were scheduled to play on live TV (on ESPN) before a crowd that eagerly anticipated the “rare tennis treat” (2001, p. 3C) of seeing the sisters play each other for only the sixth time in their professional careers. There was clearly a lot riding on whether or not Venus and Serena played that match. Yet, according to Serena, the trainer “kept telling Venus to hold off on making any kind of final decision” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 65).

Two hours before the match was slated to begin, Venus again told officials that she would not be able to play, but still no announcement was made that she was withdrawing. It was not until five minutes before the match was to start that a tournament official finally “announced to the packed stadium that Venus was withdrawing due to injury” (Williams & Paisner, 2009, p. 67). Needless to say, the timing of the announcement could not have been worse and fans unleashed their anger toward Venus since she was made to appear as the culprit who withdrew at the last minute.

Two days after Venus’ default in the semifinals, Serena played in the final against the Belgian Kim Clijsters. When Venus and her father entered the Stadium to watch the final, fans responded by booing vociferously. Richard Williams proclaimed that a dozen fans in the stands used racial slurs and one fan yelled that he would “skin him alive” (Smith, 2001, p. 3C). According to some sources, fans were upset not only because of the late default, but also because they had the impression that Richard, was responsible for orchestrating the outcomes of their matches. Dementieva, whom Venus defeated in the quarterfinals, had even suggested in her press conference that she thought their father Richard would decide who would win their semifinal match (Drucker, 2009). A headline in the National Enquirer also suggested that Richard ordered Serena to lose to Venus in the 2000 Wimbledon semifinals. This further fueled the impression of match-fixing.

Aside from such accusations about match-fixing, there has never been any concrete evidence to confirm that this is anything more than speculation. In fact, Bart McGuire who was then CEO of the WTA Tour, issued a statement on March 16, 2001, saying that “The tour is aware of the assertions being circulated regarding Venus and Serena Williams’ head-to-head matches. We have seen no evidence to support those assertions, and both players have denied them” (Drucker, 2009, para. 29).

On March 23, 2001, Venus addressed the role of the press in fueling the story about what happened at Indian Wells. When asked about the crowd’s response at Indian Wells, Venus said that she didn’t always understand the press, but she understood that they wanted a big story and they were “interested in selling papers” (Drucker, 2009, para. 49).Indian Wells’ Tournament Director Charlie Pasarell addressed the question posed to Venus about whether it was unfair of the crowd to respond as they did. Pasarell reported that he cringed “when all that stuff was going on,” adding that “it was unfair for the crowd to do that” (Drucker, 2009, para. 51).

At the beginning of Drucker’s (2009) article, the editor noted that “the controversy surrounding Venus and Serena Williams’ decision not to play at Indian Wells has been composed of rumors, conjecture and  confusing comments about racism and match fixing” (para. 1). While it may be difficult to make sense of all that has been reported and recorded by the press about Indian Wells over the last 15 years, what happened there in 2001 was enough to make the Williams’ sisters decide not to play in the tournament for the past 14-15 years. I vividly remember watching that match and was embarrassed by the vitriol spewed toward Venus, Serena and their father Richard. I have always understood their decision not to play at Indian Wells. While I applaud their willingness to forgive and move on, I question if that chapter is truly over if we have not fully addressed the underlying impulse for the crowd’s (mis)behavior at Indian Wells in 2001.

References

Drucker, J. (2009, March 11). What happened at Indian Wells? ESPN.com. Retrieved from http://espn.go.com/sports/tennis/columns/story?id=3952939&columnist=drucker_joel

Rare tennis treat: Williams vs. Williams. (2001, March 15). USA Today, p. 1C.

Smith, D. (2001, March 26). Williams decries fans as racist. USA Today, p. 3C.

Williams, S., & Paisner, D. (2009). On the line. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.